If you’re of a certain age, you probably haven’t heard or thought the word “Furby" since tossing one into a storage bin sometime in the early 2000s. Well, get ready to hear that nasally pre-shower Gremlin voice again – Furby is back, and this time it has its own app. It's early yet, but the newest Furbys have emerged as one of the possible marquee toys of the 2013 holiday shopping season.
First, a little background for the unfamiliar: Furby is a battery-operated, plush, interactive robot toy with bug eyes, pointy ears, and a tiny beak – it’s been described as a cross between an owl and a hamster. Furbys react to sounds and movement surrounding them, talking and eventually learning a cutesy, garbled form of English.
Manufactured by Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics, Furby first hit the market in 1998 and was an instant hit. The Furby craze reached fever pitch during the 1998 Christmas season, when demand for the toys became so intense that stores had trouble keeping them in stock, leading to Furbys being sold on the resale market for hundreds of dollars via newspaper ads and online auctions (retail value was about $35 at the time). Scams abounded, with online Furby-seekers being roped into paying dearly for Furbys that didn’t exist. Some 40 million Furbys were sold in the toy’s first three years. With their high, grating robot voices and the lack of an off button (really) Furbys quickly became known for being as annoying as they were popular.
Furbys have been lurking on the toy market ever since, but have thus far failed to recapture the late '90s height of their popularity. An updated version was released in 2005 with voice-recognition software and more complicated facial movements. Another line was launched in 2012 with LCD eyes and a wider array of colors.
The latest version, and the one being touted as a holiday must-have, is the Furby Boom, which hit stores this past summer. Furby Boom comes paired with a smart phone or tablet app that serves to make Furby’s life richer and more complicated. Using the app, owners can name their Furby and monitor its “vital signs,” including hunger, wellness, cleanliness, and bathroom needs (yes, like many ill-conceived toys before it, Furby Boom has “bathroom needs”).
It also has a family component. The Furby Boom app allows users to hatch and raise virtual Furby eggs, called Furblings, in conjunction with the physical Furby. As with previous iterations, Furby Booms can talk, sing, and dance with each other (as well as with older versions, on a limited basis).
The Furby Boom retails for $40 at most retailers, and a deal looms: Target will sell them for $28 on Black Friday, according to its ad.
It’s too early to tell whether the newest Furby will reclaim its predecessor’s former glory this holiday season. But there is at least one telling sign that demand may be ramping back up. Earlier this year, a Thai woman was convicted of scamming victims out of $200,000 by posting fake ads for Furbys on Instagram, then failing to fulfill the orders. Furby fraud, for the moment, is alive and well.